Thursday, July 15, 2010

Are You a 'Vintage Nerd?' Spotting Vintage Mistakes in Movies-UPDATED 9-19-2010

The photo above is from the infamous "Pearl Harbor" film from 2001. I did not see this film in theatres. I saw it on HBO a few years ago and I have to say that the costume department got a lot of the vintage clothing right but they also got a lot wrong. I admit that I tend to obsess over three things: vintage, historical facts, and grammar. (I am a linguist and copy editor by profession).

So, with that said, the costumes in "Pearl Harbor" captured pre-war fashion well. But as I watched a bikini-clad Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) cavort with Danny (Josh Hartnett) on the Oahu shores, my interest in the story became overshadowed by the obvious, fashion oversights. The bikini was created by French designer Louis Reard in 1946. He named his design the "bikini" after the famed Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Now, my mother-in-law, informed me that there were two piece playsuits in the pre-war era but bikinis were not worn really until the late 40s and into the 50s.

UPDATE: I need to correct the information in the above paragraph regarding the historical accuracy of the "bikini." Yes, the "bikini" was invented in 1946 but it was a newer style that was very revealing and quite controversial. Unlike the two-piece bathing suits with shorts-like bottoms that covered the navel and posterior completely, the French design featured higher cut legs and a skimpier top. With that said, I have done some in-depth research this past weekend and found that not only were cotton two-piece playsuits in existence, two-piece bathing suits were/are period-correct! There are two-piece bathing suits AND bikinis. Unfortunately, I did not make an accurate distinction between the two. A bikini equals skimpy and two-piece suit equals modesty. Yet, over the years, bikini has come to mean all two-pieces suits! It is like every medical bandage being called a Band-Aid when Band-Aid is a distinct brand. Thus, when Evelyn was seen wearing a modest, 40s-era two-piece, the costumers got it right. I also want to credit Kim Bombshell for her valuable insight on this information as well (see the comments section)!

Another mistake the movie made was how the Navy nurses were not in uniform after war was declared. In the scene where the nurses and servicemen are seen attending the funeral of those lost in the Pearl Harbor attack, the women are wearing chic, civilian clothing while the men are in their uniforms. Moreover, when Evelyn is sitting at the desk in the communications/radio office during the Doolite Raids, she is again wearing civilian clothing and her hair is down!

Also, in the scene where Evelyn meets Rafe (Ben Affleck) for the first time, Evelyn is wearing her nurse's uniform and her hair is down. Military regulations state, even to this day, that hair must be off the collar. I was in the Army ROTC program for two years when I was in college and it was mandatory for me to have my hair off my collar.

As for the many historical inaccuracies of the film, in the scene where Rafe takes Evelyn to the harbor, the Queen Mary is docked in New York Harbor. Rafe says something about the ship's passengers having a luxurious time. In August 1939, The Queen Mary left Southampton, Britain with passengers trying flee to the United Stated in an effort to escape the impending war in Europe. This was the ship's last peacetime voyage. When the ship arrived in New York, war had been declared between Britain and Germany. In addition, even before the declaration of war, the portholes had been painted over to help lessen the threat of attack from German torpedos launched from U-boats. Six months later, the ship was commissioned by the British government to be used as a troop ship.

In an earlier scene of Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Force base on Long Island, New York was misspelled "Mitchell Field." It was actually "Mitchel Field."

Whenever a 1940s 0r 1950s period movie like, "A League of Their Own," "The Notebook," "Far From Heaven," or even a 1930s homage like Peter Jackson's 2005 version of "King Kong," I find myself paying attention to the vintage fashion way more than the story itself. In my humble opinion, I think "A League of Their Own" captured the 40s look perfectly. Everything Madonna and Geena Davis were wearing was just amazing. Their hair was also perfect! Didn't you girls just want to die when Dottie (Geena) was wearing that yellow rayon blouse after the end of the women's world series final game (when she says goodbye to Kit (Lori Petty) as they both get on their buses)?

As for "King Kong," I wanted to just scream when I saw Naomi Watt's eyebrows! They were unshaped and modern! Her whole makeup look was wrong too! The makeup department really dropped the ball on that one! 1930s brows were thin and high arched and lips were blue-red!

Now, the *best* depiction of vintage fashion is of course, vintage movies! I often watch the Turner Classic Movies channel on the weekends for clothing and hair inspiration. I recently watched Betty Grable in the 1950 classic, "My Blue Heaven:"

Betty looks so pretty here! I was also able to copy her hairstyle the other day. It was easy to do. It just requires pin curls and a middle part.

The fashion in old movies is always 'to die for.' I would do anything to be able to get my hands on those dresses, hats, and shoes! But, since I cannot go back in time, I will continue to study vintage and period movies for help when it comes to true vintage style. I know that some modern movies are going to get it wrong and yet, I will use my knowledge to properly amend my look.

So, are you a vintage nerd? Let me know what you think?


  1. I love Betty Grable. She is an icon of mine. I also am "A Vintage Nerd" in the way you are. Mine revolves a lot around music. There is a popular car add on TV at the moment, and it shows two sharp dressed couples leaving a train station and taking a car to town. Based on the stlye of the clothing, hair, etc you would think it was set in the late 40s, but the background song is from the 60s. That sort of stuff drives me crazy! If this was set in the 40s, that song wasn't made yet. Jee wiz! Keep up the good posts!


  2. Dollie,

    Thanks for the comments! I can totally relate about the music! For example, a while back, I was watching "The Right Stuff" on TV. In one scene, you see Dennis Quaid and Pamela Reed in the car driving to the air force base and the year is supposed to be 1953. Yet, the song that is playing is Jimmy Lloyd's "Rocket in My Pocket." That song was not recorded until 1957! It is like no one involved in a movie's production does any research! Talk about annoying!

  3. I can totally relate 100%. Also as a make up artist I find myself looking at the actors make up half the time and the clothing the other half until I wonder what the heck the damn movie was even about cuz I missed it,lol.
    If I can be a make up nerd for a of the coolest things about the movie Pearl Harbor is the special make up used for the burns on the actors after the bombing. The burns were mostly created by using specially designed temporary tattoos called Tinsley Transfers that simulated the look of the wounds to stunning effect.

    I am a huge Betty Grable-phile. Have you seen The Dolly Sisters? I did a post about it over at my must see it!
    The dress from the end of My Blue Heaven??? The poufy cotton candy-esque perfection drives me insane with want.

  4. Miss Patti,

    I just took a look at your blog! It is great! I also love the layout!

    I am a huge Betty Grable fan as well! I love her look! The dresses she wore in My Blue Heaven were to die for! I love her hair and her hats! And I so want that coat!

    That is cool about Pearl Harbor's temporary tattoo wounds. I had no idea! The special effects were amazing too. I just was peeved by the few slip ups regarding fashion, military hair regulations, and historical facts!

    So, I have to ask, as a make up artist, what is your favorite red lipstick? I am an amateur makeup artist but I am a trained artist (ie painting, sculpture, drawing, etc). I love makeup and I love red lipstick! I have shades from Nars, MAC, Make Up For Ever, Revlon, etc. So far, Julie Hewett's reds, MAC matte reds, and Nars are my top picks.

    Thank you for your comments too!


  5. I agree completely. I just watched "A League of Their Own" the other day, and I fell in love with the costumes. I was particularly fond of Madonna's red and white dress that she 'didn't plan on wearing long.' I just adored the clothing.

    Last night I watched "The War Bride," and I LOVED Lily and Sophie’s dresses and accessories! I was disappointed to see Lily (towards the end) wearing (what seem to me) modern overalls. I realize that overalls are not a modern phenomenon, but those she had on looked too 90s to me!

  6. I'm very, definitely a neophyte, but I adore the looks of the 'blonds' in Alfred Hitchcock movies. Doris Day in 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' had the best outfits!!

  7. I just looked up the 2 piece bathing suit Kate Beckinsale was wearing in Pearl Harbor and it is not a Bikini. It is a 2 Piece bathing suit, and the store I work in "Time Zone" has 3 of them, one with a bakelite belt buckle at the waist.

    The first bikini was much smaller on bottom and the major characteristic was the naval could be seen. Here is a link from a historic database of the first bikini that came out in 1946.

    You can see that it is much skimpier than the 2 piece, high waist, halter suit Kate wears. Just had to throw that out there, although I agree with you that it is annoying when movies are not period correct with costuming and make up.

  8. I appreciate people who appreciate grammar! I cringe when I hear blatant grammatical errors. For example, the recent trend of using "I" willy nilly: "This is a picture of so and so and I."

    Embrace "me" folks, it's not a bad word!

    I'm also a history nerd... more dates and events than vintage objects but my natural tendency toward a critical eye is leading me closer and closer to that particular nerd-ism every day. They go hand in hand, I suppose.

  9. Hello, my name is Miss CherryBubbles and I am a vintage nerd. ;)

    Great post! I thought I was the only one often distracted by vintage/historical inaccuracies and grammatical errors. (I'm a book indexer and proofreader by profession.)

    I haven't seen A League of Their Own, but I'll definitely add it to my list of must-see period movies.

  10. Miss Cherry Bubbles,

    Thank you for the compliments and comments!

    It feels good knowing I am not the only one focused on bad grammar and vintage/historical inaccuracies! I am copy editor and technical writer by profession.

    If you have not seen "A League of Their Own," you should! It is a great movie that has a wonderful story and the clothing is just amazing!